Andrew Joslyn is an accomplished string arranger, composer and songwriter based in the Seattle WA area. He’s worked with the likes of Macklemore, Kesha, Leslie Odom Jr, David Bazan (Pedro The Lion) and the Seattle Symphony, just to name a few. We sat down with Andrew to talk about his story and his work as a musician and with the Grammy Academy.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a composer, orchestrator, songwriter, and string player that has been working in the music industry since 2002, and full time since 2012. I was born in Pomona, CA, but grew up on Bainbridge Island, WA, just outside of Seattle.
How did you get your start in music? Was Violin/strings your first instrument?
My parents started me on the violin when I was 5 years old. On my dad’s side of the family there was a strong tradition of classical music. My step-grandfather started the London String Quartet, and my grandmother and great aunt were incredible classical musicians in their own right. I did a strict classical regiment up through college, but began to diverge when I picked up fiddle music- Celtic, bluegrass, Swedish, Gypsy, etc. These all really helped build my ear and ability to improvise, which isn’t a skill that is emphasized at all in classical training. Once I got to college, I was disillusioned with the classical degree, and pivoted and joined a rock band where I played electric violin, and built a reputation as a crazy shredding player from that for many years.
You've had the opportunity to work with so many artists from Macklemore, to Kesha to David Bazan. What would you say was the pivotal moment for you that really broke you into that echelon? What would you say to another aspiring composer who wants to reach that calibur of work?
I feel like I’ve had a couple of different career trajectories that have been growing in tandem, but followed completely different routes. My pop writing/performing career really got its start when I met Ben Haggerty (Macklemore) in 2008 right when he had gotten out of rehab. A mutual friend of ours connected us, and I performed my first hip hop show with him at Neumos opening up for Blue Scholars and Common Market. This was actually even before Ryan Lewis became a major writing partner with Ben. Since 2008 I’ve been a big contributor to all of his albums as an orchestral writer/arranger/performer, and that is what led me to 2012’s gigantic breakout hit ’The Heist.’ Being a writer and contributor to that album was a big opening for me, and a great introduction to a different echelon of musicians. However, it wasn’t an easy path by any means. It slightly opened doors, but it wasn’t like I had immediately ‘made it’ and my life was set. I really hustled over the next couple of years, and was able to clinch a publishing deal with BMG in NY, which helped connect me with other large artists such as Leslie Odom Jr. from Hamilton.
“you really need to consistently put in the work, and continually hone your craft as an artist”
My arranging/scoring work really initially took off around 2012 as well, when I became the go-to string arranger for a ton of artists in the region for their live shows. I had landed a gig writing scores for an orchestra backing Allen Stone at the Neptune, and that gave me enough visibility to other artists/bands in the area, that a lot of people wanted to start hiring me for all sorts of projects. Because I could play violin, viola, and a little cello, walk into a studio, chart out an arrangement, improvise, play by ear, and perform the parts as a one-man-orchestra, I was able to get a ton of studio session work as well, which made me a huge favorite for producers in the area. I kind of set myself up as a ‘wrecking crew,’ where I created a large network of string players I’d pull in for contract work, and write all the charts for a show, and this is how I setup the Passenger String Quartet, which originally came together for a show backing Suzanne Vega (Tom’s Diner fame), when she performed at the Moore Theatre for a show. I re-upped my training with composition, music theory, and orchestration so I could write the best charts possible, and eventually landed a gig as an orchestrator/curator for my own series with the Seattle Symphony last year during Covid.
For an aspiring composer, I would say you really need to consistently put in the work, and continually hone your craft as an artist, but also be putting out work into the public, either as a performer, writer, or recorded music. One of my favorite sayings that I heard recently goes:
Two farmers prayed for rain. It finally came; but only one of them planted the seeds to grow a crop.
In addition to being an accomplished composer and arranger, you're also a member of the Grammy Academy board of trustees. Tell us more about your work there.
I’ve been involved with the Recording Academy since around 2013, and I love them as an organization, especially MusiCares which supplies critical support for musicians in need. I’m the co-chair of Advocacy with the Academy along with Yolanda Adams on the national level, and do a lot of work with state representatives and the Washington D.C. office which helps craft policies that directly impact and support music creators all over the country. Currently we’re working with Reps Ted Deutch (D-Fla) and Darrel Issa (R-Calif) on focusing and advancing the American Music Fairness Act (AMFA). The AMFA is a bipartisan bill that ends a decades-long loophole that has enabled AM/FM radio broadcasters to use the music of performers and producers without fairly compensating them for their work. I think it is time that this needs to be re-addressed, since it is already a difficult environment for music creators, and every little bit of support matters.
With such a long resume, it might be hard to narrow down- but what would you say you're most proud of thus far in your career?
I would say that one of the most gratifying experiences I have had of late, was working directly on the writing, and production of Leslie Odom Jr’s debut original album, “Mister.” He had pulled together an amazing team of writers and producers from around the country for a writing session to put together the songs for this album. Finding a team of people that you respect, vibe with, and work efficiently with is amazing, and I hadn’t felt that synergy with a group of musicians since the initial days of work on the Heist with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. But I think by far the biggest thing I’m proud to be a part of, is the creation of Kesha’s hit ‘Praying.’ I’m just thankful to be able to associate myself in general with great art, but there’s times when I’m even more proud to be associated with something bigger. I had no idea what “Praying” would become – I knew that I was blessed to work with such talent as Kesha and Ryan Lewis, but all I knew was her message would mean something. It would have to. This track has turned into an anthem, and as a son to my mother, and a husband I’m proud to support #metoo, to support the strength in women.
What's on the horizon? What projects coming up are you most excited about?
I have a ton of projects on the horizon, and a number of projects coming out with Seattle Symphony, specifically a recording with the band Ivan & Alyosha and the symphony which should be coming out in December on Nettwerk.
And of course, the obligatory question- Top 3 albums..go!
This is always changing, but I think there is a couple of ones that I keep coming back to: Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppe “Rome”, Tears for Fears “Songs from the Big Chair,” and Roxy Music ‘Avalon.”
You can read more about andrew and his work at www.andrewjoslynmusic.com.